Rare antelope died after choking on plastic cap at Tennessee zoo

A rare and beloved 7-year-old antelope named Lief died after choking on the cap of a squeeze pouch, a Tennessee zoo said, warning of the dangers of plastic packaging for animals. animals.

Brights Zoo in Limestone, Tennessee, prohibits visitors from bringing baby food pouches, plastic straws, glass bottles and other items that it says pose a safety risk to animals at proximity to its habitats. Lief died after veterinarians were unable to dislodge the cap he allegedly ingested in his enclosure.

“He still had a lot of life left to live,” the zoo, a private, family-run establishment located in the east of the state, said on social media about the antelope with big ears and curly horns, described as calm and friendly. Sitatunga antelopes are native to Africa and can live up to 22 years, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo.

“We lost a beloved animal due to choking,” the zoo wrote in a Facebook post Saturday. “Some people ask why we don’t allow squeeze bags in the zoo. The reason is simple: the packaging is dangerous for our animals. If you look at these lids from an animal perspective, it looks like food.

The zoo said it regularly conducts bag searches “but some people find ways to sneak them in,” adding that visitors “may go to their cars or to the picnic areas in our parking lot as many times as that they wish and enter the zoo”. zoo.”

Pouch caps, commonly used for children’s food, can also pose a choking hazard for young children, experts warn.

Born in July 2016, Lief had thick spiral horns and white spots under his eyes. many others of its species seemed less shy, zoo director David Bright told CBS News.

He said the cap was likely thrown into Lief’s enclosure and ingested by the animal. Bright said Lief “behaved strangely” before fluid started leaking from his mouth and the veterinary team rushed to dislodge the plastic cap. But it was too late.

The zoo did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday morning.

Zoo employee Connie Bright wrote online that Lief’s death had been “devastating” and stressed the need to search the bags, despite the perceived hassle.

“The three keepers who tried in vain to save this animal felt helpless and devastated as the animal they loved and hand-fed for years was dying,” she said. writing. “Many hearts are sad and broken today.”

“This makes me so angry,” one person wrote online in response to Lief’s death. “Really heartbreaking for this poor animal and its keepers,” said another. “Disgraceful behavior in so many ways,” another person wrote, calling it a “senseless loss.”

Sitatunga antelopes are accomplished swimmers and often spend a lot of time in the water. Adults can weigh between 110 and 275 pounds.

Brights Zoo said the animals are distinguished by their long, splayed hooves, which make the Sitatunga “clumsy and vulnerable on firm ground, but well suited to walking in muddy, vegetated swamps.”

They have a waterproof coat that is dark brown in lifelike males and reddish brown in females. Both may have white stripes and spots.

Brights Zoo was founded in 2007 and is home to several rare and endangered species, including oryx and Bactrian camels, as well as red kangaroos, spider monkeys, pandas and zebras.

“We would like to know the people responsible, but unfortunately we don’t think we ever will,” the zoo said.

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